US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican – Kentucky) spoke to reporters last week and said that while legislators are still trying to come to a consensus on the Farm Bill, a provision legalizing hemp will be included in the legislation.
When asked by reporters about the hemp provisions and whether they would be included in the final legislation, McConnell said, “They will be. If there’s a farm bill it will be in there, I guarantee you that. We’re trying right now to make sure there’s a farm bill and before the end of the year.” McConnell indicated that his goal is to have industrial hemp production only “lightly regulated by the federal agriculture department.”
The US Senate passed a version of the Farm Bill in July, which included provisions that would legalize hemp, allowing it to be sold as an agricultural commodity and removing it from a federal list of controlled substances. That legislation would also allow states to decide how to best regulate hemp, and also allow hemp researchers to apply for US Agriculture Department grants and provide eligibility for crop insurance to hemp farmers.
The US House of Representatives version of the Farm Bill did not have hemp-specific provisions, but McConnell is optimistic that the hemp legalization provisions would be in a final version drafted by a joint House-Senate committee.
The previous Farm Bill – which contained language in Section 7606 that defined industrial hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis” – lapsed quietly on September 30, 2018, after legislators were not able to come to an agreement about the language of the massive bill, due to arguments about requirements for food stamp recipients. The US House bill would impose work requirements on the existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and change the eligibility requirements for receiving federal assistance. Senators have warned the House that the provision would not meet the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for passage.
McConnell also told reporters that completing work on the Farm Bill is one of his top priorities during what will be a lame-duck Congressional session. Most of the programs in the lapsed Farm Bill are funded through the end of the calendar year, but new legislation will need to be passed soon in order for the programs to continue operating.
McConnell has long been in support of the legalization of hemp, due to the fact that his constituency is one of the largest producers of hemp in the country, growing thousands of acres for production and processing for a variety of hemp-based products. Kentucky has expanded into hemp after the decline of tobacco production in the state. Hemp products include rope, clothing, mulch, soaps, lotions, building materials, biofuels, food products, and more.
McConnell told reporters, “It’s interesting to think about what it could be. I don’t want to overstate this – I don’t know whether it’s going to be the next tobacco or not, but I do think it has a lot of potential.”